With everyone celebrating the holidays, we bid farewell to 2005 and the exciting racing that we were treated to. Although we must continue to wait for the elusive 12th Triple Crown winner, this still had to be one of the most memorable seasons of racing in recent memory.
Lost in the Fog wins the Riva Ridge
The Sunshine Millions, the brainchild of Frank Stronach set up as a Florida vs California breeder war, celebrated its second renewal in January. The Sunshine Millions Dash saw a 3-year-old colt named Lost In The Fog run away from the field and into everyone's consciousness. The sprinter would go on to win such important races as the Swale, the Riva Ridge and the King's Bishop before his career unbeaten streak was broken when he finished out of the money in the Breeders' Cup Sprint.
In March, the eyes of the racing world were on Nad al Sheba Racecourse in Dubai for the $6 million Dubai World Cup, the world's richest horse race. Among the U.S. based runners, Roses in May defeated Dynever by 3 lengths in the main event, while sprinter Saratoga County captured the $2 million Golden Shaheen. In November, Sheikh Mohammed announced that the two turf races on the card would each offer a $5 million in the 2006 running.
Alex's Lemonade Stand at the Belmont
The Triple Crown series belonged to Alex. Not just the colt named Afleet Alex, but Alex Scott and her charity for pediatric cancer research. Almost every track in North America featured children wearing yellow T-shirts operating Alex's Lemonade Stands, and ownership group Cash Is King Stable pledged a portion of Afleet Alex's earnings towards the charity. Sadly, Alex Scott did not live to see her equine namesake finish a close third in the Kentucky Derby to longshot Giacomo, and then win the Preakness and Belmont, as she lost her battle in August of 2004 at the age of 8. The Preakness in particular gave us one of the scariest yet most exciting moments of the year, when Scrappy T and Afleet Alex clipped heels at the top of the stretch and the favored Afleet Alex almost went down, possibly causing serious injury to regular rider Jeremy Rose. However, Afleet Alex merely stumbled, found his footing, and easily drew away to win by 4 1/2 lengths. After winning the Belmont, Afleet Alex was taken off the track due to an injury he would never recover from, and he was retired at the end of the year.
Hurricane Katrina made landfall near New Orleans on August 29th, causing widespread damage to the city both from the high winds and flooding. Fair Grounds Race Course was mostly underwater and part of its grandstand roof collapsed. Fortunately there were no horses on the grounds and the security guards protecting the track at the time all escaped unharmed. The NTRA established the "Racing to the Rescue" fund to provide financial relief to members of the racing community affected by this disaster. Weeks after Katrina affected New Orleans, Hurricane Rita hit the Texas-Louisiana border and caused damage to Delta Downs. Because of these two hurricanes, Louisiana racing was directly affected. The Fair Grounds winter meet was moved upstate to Louisiana Downs, while Delta Downs had to postpone the start of its meet until January 2006.
Saint Liam wins the Classic
The Breeders' Cup World Thoroughbred Championships determine most of the Eclipse Awards, and Saint Liam's win in the Classic at Belmont Park may have earned him the Horse of the Year title, although Afleet Alex still has a lot of support. Huge longshot Pleasant Home scored one for the home team as the Phipps homebred shocked the Distaff, while defending champion Ouija Board was unable to run down front-running Intercontinental in the Filly and Mare Turf.
Even though the Breeders' Cup is meant to be a celebration of what is good about racing, it also drew attention to the many problems with the once-proud New York Racing Association, operators of Belmont, Saratoga, and Aqueduct. NYRA was hit with scandal after scandal over the last few years, and former DRF president Charles Hayward was brought in to save the sinking ship. Despite having arguably the most lucrative stakes program in the country and some of the highest purses to be found anywhere, NYRA was awash in red ink. Hayward is expected to declare NYRA bankrupt early in 2006, and the state is expected to sell the franchise to the highest bidder when NYRA's current term comes up for renewal in 2007. Former NTRA president Tim Smith formed a group called Friends of New York Racing to work collectively at saving the proud racing tradition in the state.
Politics always rears its ugly head in horse racing, and this year was no
exception. Along with the troubles at NYRA, horsemen boycotted the first few
days of the Turfway summer meeting thanks to a dispute with the state.
Long-time troubles at the Jockey's Guild finally came to a head when president
Dr. Wayne Gertmenian was fired by a majority of members after some financial
irregularities and the failure of Guild management to notify members the
organization's $1-million catastrophic insurance policy for jockeys had
lapsed. This followed a House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Oversight
and Investigations hearing which labeled his management a "disgrace".
The 2007 Breeders' Cup was almost taken away from Monmouth Park because of a
dispute between New Jersey's racing commission and the horsemen, and once
again jockey Patrick Valenzuela was allowed back in, after numerous
suspensions over the years for drug abuse. Jockey Stewart Elliott of Smarty
Jones fame faces possible deportation because of a felony conviction from 4
years ago. Owner Ken Ramsey was fined and suspended after ethical violations
at the end of last year, and what should have been a memorable season for
trainer Todd Pletcher ended with him being suspended for 45 days for drug
Silent Witness wins his 17th straight race
As the adage goes, "records were made to be broken", and 2005 is no exception. Hong Kong-based sprinter Silent Witness became the first modern era horse to win 17 straight races, beating the record set by Citation and tied by Cigar and Hallowed Dreams. The streak ended when stablemate Bullish Luck beat him by a head in the Champions Mile. Jockey John Velazquez set a new single-season earnings record, beating Jerry Bailey's 2003 record, while Todd Pletcher set a new single-season record for earnings by a trainer, beating Bobby Frankel's 2003 record. Among the "distaff" set, apprentice jockey Emma-Jayne Wilson became the first female to win the Woodbine riding title in the 50-year history of the track, and the mare Makybe Diva won her third consecutive Melbourne Cup, a feat that had never been accomplished. Several milestones were reached this year as well. New York jockey Richard Migliore earned his 4000th career win at Aqueduct in February,Canadian rider Todd Kabel captured win number 3000 at Woodbine in October, and Hall of Famer Gary Stevens won his 5000th the day after the Breeders' Cup.
Speaking of Canadian racing, the Queen's Plate turned out to be an American sweep, as New York based Wild Desert defeated Kentucky based King of Jazz. Ablo upset Wild Desert in the Prince of Wales Stakes, denying him a Triple Crown shot. U.S. based horses also swept the two important turf races in the fall, as Leroidesanimaux annexed the Atto Mile and Relaxed Gesture took the $2 million Canadian International. Multiple stakes winner on turf and dirt, A Bit O'Gold, was named Canada's Horse of the Year.
Two of racing's greatest riders, Pat Day and Gary Stevens, announced their retirements this year. After his retirement, Day was honored with "Big Sport of Turfdom" award for his accomplishments. As well, there were some high profile horses that left the track for good. 2004 Horse of the Year Ghostzapper looked to be on his way to repeat as champion with his win in the Metropolitan Handicap, but was injured in the race. Afleet Alex was supposed to return in 2006 but when his injury failed to heal properly, he was retired to stud. As well, 2004 champion turf horse Kitten's Joy was being prepped for a return trip to the Breeders' Cup when an injury was discovered after his 2nd place finish in the Arlington Million. Popular California runner Rock Hard Ten, who was expected to be one of the favorites in the Breeders' Cup Classic off his win in the Goodwood, was scratched from the race and was retired shortly after. In fact his retirement played a role in the retirement of his regular rider Stevens.
Of course, with all the excitement and joy the sport brings, there are always losses each year. This year proved to be especially deadly for on-track deaths with two jockeys dying from injuries received in a race as well as two gate workers. Here are some of the notable losses in 2005, both human and equine, with links to articles about each.